Doors at 8 pm; Show at 8:30 pm
Tickets are $20 Advance / $25 Day of Show
Thomas Mapfumo is "The Lion of Zimbabwe.” The most important musical-political force in the struggle for self-rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and one of the best-known artists in African music, singer-songwriter Thomas Mapfumo modified his style once Zimbabwe achieved independence, but due to increasing unrest in recent years his music has become as adamant as in the early years. Mapfumo’s electric African music is as infectious to dance to as its lyrics are intellectually challenging, and it continues to evolve as current homeland crises inspire his latest music.
While the songs are often politically pointed, the music has a lilting, hypnotic pulse that Mapfumo and his Blacks Unlimited band created in the late 1970s by transposing the Shona people’s griots’ ancient mbira (African thumb piano) to electric guitars, bass, drums, and horns. They then blended in blues and jazz elements to create “chimurenga music” (chimurenga means struggle in Shona). It was a style promoted by Mapfumo’s Hallelujah Chicken Run Band (whose recordings are available on a reissued CD collection) before he launched his own Blacks Unlimited group. Mapfumo also brought new pride to nearly discarded traditional culture by singing in the ancient Shona language.
In response to economic and political struggles in Zimbabwe, Mapfumo’s songs address issues with such lyrics as “We are slaves in our own country.” Imprisoned before Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, Mapfumo initially rallied support for the new president, Robert Mugabe, but within several years he was decrying the government’s corruption, and the opposition and threats directed at him eventually led Mapfumo to move his family to the U.S. Though in exile, he continues to release music that is incendiary both musically and lyrically. His 2007 appearance at Ashkenaz is featured on the CD “Live at Ashkenaz, Vol. 1: Africa.”
Piwai combines the sounds of her Zimbabwean homeland with her original songs about Africa, struggles both political and personal, love and hope. In her music Piwai describes her musical journey, the challenges she faces in the American music industry, and how her dreams told her to follow the mbira. In early 2012, Piwai recorded her first album, “African Turquoise,” in collaboration with James Buzuzi of Bongo Love. It fuses jazz and traditional African rhythms, including mbira and percussion from Bongo Love’s Jacob Mafuleni and John Mambira. As with her album concept, Piwai’s concerts take the listener on a journey: glimpse life through the eyes of children in war-torn Congo; walk the streets of Harare; bear witness to the slums of Soweto, India, and the favelas of Brazil; or play along the proverbial paths of Zimbabwean folklore. For Piwai, music is all-encompassing: “The sum total of my very existence and every action I make manifests in music – the rhythm of my life.”
Piwai was surrounded by music from an early age. Her first influences include music from the Shona and Ndebele people of Zimbabwe, Suthu and Zulu tribes, and the Zimbabwean Catholic Church. She joined her first choir at the age of 10, wrote her first song at 13, and hasn’t stopped since. Piwai went on to study with renowned percussionists Yagbe Onilu and Butch Haynes, trained vocally at the Jazz School of Berkeley, and delved into the mbira – a traditional African instrument associated with profound spiritual union – with maestro Cosmas Magaya.